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Life sentence for woman who kept disabled people in a 'dungeon' and collected their welfare

“There is no penalty that is too harsh for the people that did this. The word horrific is not sufficient.”

lindaweston Linda Weston

Warning: This article contains details that some readers might find upsetting.

A WOMAN IN the city of Philadelphia has been sentenced to life plus 80 years in prison for leading a “horrific” scheme that involved keeping vulnerable disabled people and children captive while she cashed their welfare cheques, over a decade.

Linda Weston, 55, was the ring-leader of a now-notorious operation which involved renting apartments in Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Florida, targeting disabled people who were estranged from their families, and confining them in what prosecutors called “subhuman conditions.”

According to the 195-count indictment against Weston, her daughter Jean McIntosh, and co-defendant Eddie Wright, she would occasionally feign romantic interest in a victim, and then:

Once [Weston] convinced them to move in, she became their representative payee with Social Security and began to collect their disability benefits and in some instances, their state benefits.

In a statement following her sentencing yesterday, the US Attorney’s office recounted the appalling abuse meted out to the gang’s victims  - six disabled adults and four children:

Weston, Jean McIntosh, Eddie Wright and others confined their victims to locked rooms, basements, closets, attics and apartments.
While confined, the captives were often isolated in the dark and sedated with drugs that Weston and other defendants placed in their food and drink.
When the individuals tried to escape, stole food or otherwise protested their treatment, Weston and others punished them by slapping, punching, kicking, stabbing, burning and hitting them with closed hands, belts, sticks, bats and hammers or other objects, including the butt of a pistol.

longshoreave 4724 Longshore Avenue, in Philadelphia, where four of the gang's victims were found in 2011. Source: Google Maps

One victim listed in the indictment, “BW”, had been reported missing in 2009.

In 2011, she and three others were rescued from what became known as the “Basement of Horrors” at 4724 Longshore Avenue, in the Tacony neighbourhood, on the north-eastern outskirts of the city.

When she emerged from the building, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey famously observed that he had never before seen such signs of abuse on a person who was still alive.

I’ve never seen anything like this in a living person. It’s remarkable that she is still alive.
There is no penalty that is too harsh for the people that did this. The word horrific is not sufficient.

“BW” was none other than Beatrice Weston – Linda Weston’s own niece.

Two of the group’s 10 victims ended up dead after their confinement and maltreatment.

In April 2005, Donna Spadea, who had “multiple physical and mental disabilities that substantially limited her ability to care for her daily needs,” was moved into an apartment at 2211 Glenview Avenue.

She was kept in the basement with other victims, malnourished and prevented from going to the toilet. Within two months, she was found dead in the basement.

Weston ordered the remaining victims to move her body to another location, before calling the police.

Over the next few years Weston and her associates relocated and re-initiated the scam in Texas, Virginia and Florida.

threeothers Weston's co-conspirators: Eddie Wright, Jean McIntosh, and alleged co-conspirator Gregory Thomas Sr.

In 2008, Maxine Lee, who suffered from schizophrenia, and was also unable to look after her own needs, was moved into an apartment in Norfolk, Virginia.

There, she was regularly beaten if she tried to escape or begged for food, and forced to sit and sleep in an unfinished attic lined with asbestos.

Eventually, Lee was confined to a kitchen cabinet, and in November of that year, died of bacterial meningitis and starvation in the house.

Once again, Weston ordered the others to move her body and stage a death scene to cover up her abuse, before calling law enforcement.

The next day, the entire operation moved back to Philadelphia. It was discovered in 2011, and local police rescued the remaining victims in October that year.

Weston’s daughter Jean McIntosh, and co-conspirator Eddie Wright, have pleaded guilty to their involvement.

Two other alleged participants – Gregory Thomas Sr., and Nicklaus Woodard, are due to stand trial.

In September, Weston pleaded guilty to charges of racketing, kidnapping, forced human labour, involuntary servitude, murder, hate crime, sex trafficking, theft of government funds, fraud, use of a firearm and false statements.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that, after imposing a life sentence plus 80 years in Philadelphia yesterday, US District Court Judge Cynthia Rufe said of Weston:

Her future years in federal prison will be paradise compared to the conditions she imposed on her victims.

Read: Josef Fritzl’s basement dungeon to be filled with concrete>

Read: Irish Traveller family found guilty of ‘slavery’‎>

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About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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